Bali Loses its Farmers

Bali has lost 30,000 of its farmers in a single year as their fabled emerald terraced rice fields, are being plowed under to make way for villas, hotels and restaurants, according to a survey by the Bali branch of Indonesia's Central Statistics Agency. Some 643,029 farmers remain in the province, down from nearly 68,000, according to the agency's Bali director, Gde Suarsa.

Although critics have long warned that overwhelming growth was ruining an island that has long been cherished as one of the most exotic, spiritual and beautiful places on the planet, over recent months it has begun to appear that the pace of despoliation is picking up. Authorities at the Bali Development Planning Agency warned earlier this month that the island could experience a severe water shortage as early as 2015 if population growth continues unimpeded and groundwater is increasingly drawn from the underground aquifer.

"Almost every day, Kuta receives the equivalent of 20 to 100 trucks of garbage," said Anak Agung Ngurah Tresna, who heads the Kuta Beach Task Force. Tresna said the beach will now be cleaned five times daily, instead of the usual two to three. Nonetheless, refuse continues to pile up on the island's once-pristine beaches.

With another airport to be constructed in Buleleng Regency on the northern part of the island, tourism arrivals are expected to grow even faster. Tourism arrivals now amount to 2 million annually, a figure that is expected to increase to 2.5 million in 2001, officials said.

Farming still accounts for 28.4 percent of Bali's labor force and is concentrated in several rice-producing centers around the province, especially in Tabanan district in the island's south, Suarsa told reporters. .

"The number of workers in the accommodation and restaurant sector is now 620,045, which is up compared to the 472,840 counted in 2010," he said. Bali's Agricultural Office, meanwhile, reported that the land used to cultivate rice had decreased by 6,479 hectares in 2010 to 143,804 hectares.

"The impact of land conversion is that rice production weakened, from 878,000 tons to 846,000 tons" that year, said Made Putra Suryawan, the office's chief.

Jeffrey Kairupan, director of the central bank's Denpasar branch, said the province's agricultural sector only absorbed 1.7 percent of the Rp 24 trillion ($2.81 billion) in banking credit available in Bali last year.

In a presidential lecture at the State Palace on Thursday, a leading economics professor from Cambridge University, Ha-Joon Chang, said it was critical for Indonesia to continue to improve its productivity, particularly in its agricultural sector.

Chang cited the examples of the Netherlands and Denmark, countries that had limited land resources but were still major agricultural exporters because they applied advanced technology.

He said the government should work with the private sector, rather than completely dominating it. Protectionist policies were helpful so long as they ensured higher productivity, he said.

"You need to make sure protection translates into productivity goals," Chang said. "The government needs to discipline its support by reducing or withdrawing it from poor performers."

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Indonesia had to determine its own policies to help boost productivity, but he agreed with Chang on the need to develop all sectors of the economy.

"Remember, a T-shirt doesn't fit all," he said. "But we need to develop our technology and our innovation capabilities. Without that, we will not achieve the higher productivity that we need in developing our economy."

With reporting from the Jakarta Globe